CFCF

Outside

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During the four years between CFCF's full-length albums, Michael Silver explored several different sounds via a series of EPs. Some of these short-form releases, such as Exercises and Music for Objects, veered closer to classical and ambient music than the fizzy house and electro leanings of CFCF's debut album Continent. While Outside, which revolves around Silver's impressions of travel, motion, stability, and exploration, is just as conceptual as those EPs, musically it's another shift. Often, the album feels like the flipside of the still-hip '80s sounds he played with on his debut: Outside overflows with breathy synth pads, new age-y pan flutes, and approximations of exotic instruments that often read as cheesy to listeners decades later. Coupled with his soothing vocals, these songs are reminiscent of hypnagogic pop, though as a whole the album is more straightforward than most work by the practitioners of that dreamily retro style. For better or worse, Silver's reproductions of this glassy '80s sound are extremely faithful -- "Strange Form of Life" could have soundtracked an episode of Miami Vice. The way "Beyond Light"'s smoothly pulsating beat and melody gradually build in speed like a train pulling away from the station makes it a highlight, while "The Crossing" and "Jump Out of the Train" bring some passion to the proceedings. Too often, though, Silver's songwriting isn't quite distinctive enough to transcend the atmospheres he re-creates so exactly. While the hushed mood he cultivates avoids camp, it also rarely rises above polished background music on songs such as "Find," "The Breath," and "Feeling. Holding." Ultimately, Outside's exercises in nostalgia are pretty, smooth, and inoffensive, but not nearly as interesting as CFCF's debut album or the EPs that followed it.

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